Working remotely has its advantages, but fast career growth might not be one of them — particularly for younger employees. Being in the office makes them privy to all sorts of advantages, from casual mentoring to the conversations that happen in the conference room right after the video meeting ends. Physical proximity also greases the skids for collaboration. It’s not that collaboration can’t happen over Zoom or Slack or email, it’s just a ton easier and faster when people are in the same room. It also helps when those trying to collaborate have built a relationship that extends beyond their profile pic on Teams.
Yesterday I had lunch with the owner of a film production company who said he’d noticed a major difference in the career growth of two employees hired recently. One has been working from home, stopping in at the office just a few hours a week. The other has been coming into the office every day. He was struck by how much more quickly the one in the office had grown, building relationships with people at different levels in the company, being part of unplanned conversations about the work, and absorbing the company culture. The one working remotely is much less visible to colleagues and has not built the same sort of relationships with others on the team.
But the quality of employees’ work doesn’t depend on relationships, does it? Maybe it does. I had a spirited debate over dinner with two friends, a corporate lawyer and an architectural firm principal. The lawyer’s initial position was that there’s absolutely no reason that employees have to be in the office to be productive. The architect, who had found it much more difficult during the pandemic to give her team members guidance and feedback on their work, was delighted to be back in the office working in person with her employees. In creative fields where collaboration plays a major role in the quality of the work, in-person interaction may be more important. According to Bloomberg, the Gensler Research Institute found a significant decrease in time spent collaborating during the pandemic — from 43% in 2019 to only 27% in 2020.
As our conversation moved on to mentorship, the lawyer began to change her tune. There’s a lot that young attorneys are probably missing by working from home, she admitted. The casual coaching, the ability to ask a partner a quick question in the hallway, and the chance to watch and hear how more experienced colleagues handle a million small interactions with both clients and co-workers are all lost in remote work. There are subtleties and nuances that younger employees pick up almost by osmosis in the office. It’s not only difficult to explain them over a Zoom call, it’s unlikely people will even think to communicate them.
We can coach managers to make time for a little social chit chat in video meetings, but it often feels forced and artificial. Employees probably aren’t eager to spend extra time in that Teams meeting just to hear about this funny thing their boss’ kid did last night. In the office, employees can happen upon a discussion in the break room and join in — or not. Camaraderie is voluntary and organic, rather than a scheduled segment of the agenda. Often, those brief face-to-face conversations, snippets of harmless office gossip and beloved inside jokes help cement relationships and make the workday a little more fun.
Those work relationships are also important to engagement. It’s not an accident that one of the questions on Gallup’s 12-question employee engagement survey is about having a best friend at work. In Gensler’s recent Work from Home survey, 45% of respondents said work is where they form most of their new friendships. Business Insider says 52% of employees working a hybrid work week would plan to go in on the same days as their friends at work.
OFFICE OPTIONAL — BUT PROBABLY A GOOD IDEA
Many large companies have decided they have to offer remote work in order to remain competitive in the talent market, and are giving employees the flexibility to decide when they’ll come into the office, or if they’ll come in to work at all. But from the employees’ perspective, spending a least a few days a week in the office seems prudent. For those interested in moving more quickly in their careers, more days in the office may give them an advantage over their peers who remain remote.
Interested in building your company’s employee engagement? Tribe can help.